Photo by Monica Robinson
"there was never/any devil in your cow's milk—only me.”
From the first page, Tedesco's collection FOREVERHAUS enters into a communication between the narrator and the liminal spaces that compose the occasionally metaphorical haunted house at the end of the street, reclaiming folklore and building a vernacular birthed of "gingerbones", "bloodfeast", and the deep haunting of its own mortality. That is to say, I knew I would be entering an otherworldly space composed of neighborhood ghosts, macabre wonderment and lore and the occasional carcass within the walls, and I knew that I would be utterly spellbound by it from the first to the last. And I was, wholeheartedly.
Tedesco's work has not yet failed to astound me, but this particular collection struck a chord with me that has not quieted since. There are many narratives entwined within these pages, all visions from the "scrying lake" that dismantle the house of many names piece by bloody piece and expose its unsteady structure and all that it hides: the pieces of self encased in the walls and floorboards, bloody mary and the mother who is sometimes real and sometimes a horror, the "infant of me" that is so often afraid. Like the "heart of the haus", the words grow creeping from within and manifest simultaneously , as if by some sweet witchcraft, as memory you haven't experienced yet, and a spectral chaos that invites the strange and spectacular alike.
With a crooked, beckoning finger, FOREVERHAUS daringly invites you to enter, as "neighbors dare each other to ring the bell", as the walls whisper and the ghosts rouse, as the structure is built and rebuilt, as the narrator tells of her birth from the dirt and her becoming of a legend that haunts the hallowed halls. I was entranced from the first by "legend", holding desperately to every breath-stealing line; I danced in the open moonlight beneath "spell break" and buried "antrum" in my chest, and was deeply entranced by the titular poem "foreverhaus". I have experienced the foreverhaus, though I dearly wish to trespass there again if I might, and I invite you to do the same.
This is like no ghost story you have ever read, and you will not find one like it again.
"goddamned is used here incorrectly. the dark/was not damned by any god. it was sweet. like blood."
I had the incredible opportunity to ask Tedesco some questions about FOREVERHAUS, and though I would not think it possible, the insight into her world of writing gives even more to the beauty that I found this collection to be.
Where did "FOREVERHAUS” start? What do you consider its origin story to be?
"It all began with the first poem in the collection, “legend”. I had just finished writing Lizzie, Speak, and I didn’t really imagine myself diving into another full-length project. I was teaching a first year writing class on folklore and legends and assigning a lot of prompts related to the nature of folktales and how they come to be. I started to think about how folktales generally begin with a truth, or some kind of grounding history or information, and then they will typically evolve into something more fantastic. I wanted to see how this would translate into a poem, if I were to begin with a truth about myself (“my birth took place in new jersey”), and then let the poem take control the rest of the story. I had so much fun with this exercise that I just kept going with it until I was suddenly working on a new book.
I imagined the FOREVERHAUS as the sort of physical house that all the children in the neighborhood would dare each other to approach because it’s haunted / because a witch lives there / because it’s strange / etc. I also imagined it as a metaphysical space to navigate hauntings and memories and archetypes. I primarily wanted to explore the house as a container of existence, and try to examine that existence from the perspectives of those within the house, but also from those who are responsible for narrativizing it and making it into an archetype."
Your work has heavy Gothic influence and occasionally treads the line of surrealist magic. Why/how do these genres and influences speak to you?
"Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always gravitated towards these genres. I grew up in a house that was very pro-horror. My parents were really young when they had me, and so it was always like, if they wanted to watch a movie, I was generally always invited to watch along with them. I was exposed to films like The Shining and Nightmare on Elm Street, and PC games like Phantasmagoria before I even entered grade school. It does something to you to have blood shooting out of beds and elevators as the foundational images in your mind, and so, of course, I became a pretty weird kid. I even got asked to leave a girl scout meeting for telling “unladylike” ghost stories once. Whatever that even means?
For a long time, I tried to resist my inclination toward the strange and macabre because of this. Early on in my MFA, my mentors started pointing out these patterns in my work, and I resisted a bit then, too, because I was so afraid that I would get “stuck” in one genre, which would then in turn make me “stuck” as a writer in general.
I don’t feel this way at all anymore. For years now, I’ve totally embraced my love of the Gothic and horror and surreal, and I think that this has only benefited my writing. Or, at least, it has benefited the enjoyment that I get out of writing. I think the Gothic genre, in particular, lends itself to so many modes of exploration. The motifs within the genre as so malleable, and this leaves room for experimentation. I think that the surreal complements the Gothic pretty fluidly, but I also find myself in the surrealistic or uncanny realms because I’m always primarily interested in how I can play with and undo language."
What have your thoughts been on releasing work during a global pandemic? How would say this year has impacted your writing?
"Oof, it’s been wild, to say the least. Of course, there were delays and logistical considerations. FOREVERHAUS was initially supposed to be released much earlier in 2020, but the printers closed during the lockdown, and there were a bunch of other hiccups beyond anyone’s control.
In a way, this extra time with the manuscript became a positive thing because it allowed me a lot of time to reflect on the poems. But, to be totally transparent, there was a moment over the summer where my mental health plummeted and I was worried about several pretty major family issues, and so I started doubting myself and the book in a big way. Things got a little heavy, but my editor helped me through this so graciously. We ended up tabling the MS for about a month, and when I came back to it, I was given the opportunity to make some really meaningful edits. I don’t regret any of this experience, as rocky as it was at times, because I think it ultimately led to the exact book that I wanted to share with the world. I’m really thankful to both of my editors for their guidance and friendship during the whole process.
Now that the book is in the world, I’ve been taking things pretty slow when it comes to writing. I’ve done a lot of editing, but new material hasn’t been coming as easily as it used to. I’m making space for that stillness though. I spent the whole latter half of my twenties working on one project after another, so I’m thankful to take some time to reflect and take care of myself before diving into the next thing. I am excited to get started on that next thing eventually though, whatever it might be."
What works have inspired you this year?
"A few works that I really adored (off the top of my head) are Death Industrial Complex by Candice Wuehle, Witch Doctrine by Annah Browning, Sisters by Daisy Johnson, I, Tituba by Maryse Conde, The Case Against Satan by Ray Russell, Spectral Evidence by Trista Edwards, The Dollhouse Family by Mike Carey & Peter Gross, Death in her Hands by Otessa Moshfegh, and all of Julia Gfrorer’s graphic novels.
I also got to design and teach a course on ghosts and Gothic fiction for the first time this year, and so I reread The Turn of the Screw, The Haunting of Hill House, and Beloved. Teaching a book usually feels like reading it for the first time again, so I really enjoyed witnessing my students’ reactions to these works that I already considered favorites. It was also super cool to get to work Flanagan’s Hill House and Bly Manor into these discussions as well."
What piece(s) from “FOREVERHAUS” is/are your favourite, and why? I invite you to brag on yourself for a moment!
"“legend” definitely holds a very special place in my heart! It was the first poem and also kind of the egg that hatched every other poem. I’m also partial to “antrum” (formerly “new jersey dirt”), “mother” and “spell break”. Each of these poems had an intentional purpose within the book. These are also the poems where I think I went the most wild with language, and I was really proud of and excited by the truthfulness of the images that this sparked. I often use trance and automatic writing exercises when generating new poems, and so ultimately, I think that these are the pieces that really surprised and struck me the most when I sat back and reread them."
Is there anything else you want the world to know about this release?
"I’m really beyond thankful to everyone who has chosen to take the time to read it! I know how precious time and resources are right now, perhaps more than ever, so if this collection makes it to your bookshelf, I am so grateful and honored.
I hope it brings some pleasurable strangeness into your life!"
FOREVERHAUS is available for purchase through White Stag Publishing here. It's worth mentioning that the packaging alone of the copy that I received was wonderful, and that White Stag is a dream press of mine. You can also learn more about Tedesco and her work here.